On 3 April 2022, the Serbian people went to the polls to elect the members of parliament and the president. The presidential race was won by current President Aleksandar Vucic, a joint candidate of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), while Prime Minister Ana Brnabic took over responsibility for forming a government in parliament. Although around seven months had passed since the elections, the government could only be established on 26 October.
The new cabinet, which was approved with 157 votes in favour after the parliamentary vote, consists of 28 ministers with Ana Brnabic retaining her position as prime minister. Brnabic, one of the names Vucic trusts, is in her third term as Prime Minister. With the completion of the ongoing mission of Brnabic, that is, the formation of the government, Serbia is expected to face many challenges. Being stuck between Russia and Europe, especially in the recent period, and experiencing the side effects of its East-West balance policy, Serbia enters a tough process. While Serbia experiences increasing pressure from Europe to impose sanctions on Russia, as it cannot turn its back on Russia, it is on the verge of a strategic decision process in terms of both regional and country-wise interests.
In this context, the process of forming a government, which has taken almost seven months, indicates that Serbia is moving cautiously and gives hints about the country’s future policies. Accordingly, the names selected for the cabinet have significance. While members are siding with the idea of the European Union (EU), there are also pro-Russian ones, such as Ivica Dacic, in the cabinet.
Speaking after the official swearing-in ceremony held following the vote in the parliament, Brnabic stated that the government would primarily focus on energy investments and emphasized that EU membership is a strategic goal. On the other hand, as part of the speech, she focused on the relations with Europe and underlined that their intention is to build a “European Serbia”, but that this cannot work unilaterally without the support of the EU. In addition, she highlighted their foreign policy vision to invest in cooperation by maintaining friendly relations with other countries. This speech demonstrates that Brnabic aims not giving the impression of a pro-Russian or pro-EU government.
There are also criticisms indicating that the formation of the government should not take this long. Experts consider that Vucic is behind this prolonged process and that he tries to consolidate his position by slowing down the process as much as possible. However, it is seen that Vucic, who feels that the long-established balance policy has come to an end, is still careful during the process of forming a government to appoint officials who can pursue this policy by siding with both Russia and the EU.
When the appointed ministers and the ministers that are changed are examined, it is understood that Serbia will maintain its balance policy. In this context, examples such as the replacement of former Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, known for his proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin, point to a more cautious progression in relations with Russia. On the contrary, the former Energy Minister Zorana Mihajlovic, one of the names close to the US, not being appointed to the office is a positive message for Russia. With this step, Serbia gives Russia the message that it will not allow the West to shape its energy policies.
Ivica Dacic, who was appointed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shows that the balance policy with Russia will continue. This is because, although it is known that Dacic is a pro-Russian politician, experts suggest that Dacic also can shift towards a policy siding with the West according to the situation of domestic politics. In this regard, as stated above, Vucic chose his ministers cautiously and it is no coincidence that he appointed Dacic to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a name to undertake the possible negative outcomes of the balance policy.
In addition, Tanja Miscevic being appointed to the Ministry of European Integration indicates that cooperation with the EU may increase. Miscevic has served as the head of negotiations with the EU before.
From this point of view, it is expected that Serbia will continue the balance policy it has long implemented with the new government as well. Yet, serious obstacles have emerged for Serbia to continue this policy, particularly in the recent period. The increasing tension with Kosovo, the pressure of the EU to impose sanctions on Russia, and the EU accession process requiring conditions that “conflict with national interests”; on the other hand, the energy dependence on Russia, and the reflections of its pro-Russian policies on other relations have pushed Serbia into a corner. In this context, increasing economic difficulties and the energy crisis may force Serbia to take major steps, which may result in deviating from the balance policy.
It is also noteworthy that Brnabic stated in a speech she made in the parliament during the formation of the government that it is crucial to have a pro-Serbian government acting in Serbian interests elected. At this stage, it can be said that Serbia acts by national interests and attaches more importance to this aim. This indicates that if Russia does not meet Serbian national interests, Serbia may distance itself from Russia, and it can be considered that the same principle will be pursued in relations with the EU.
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